Per Diem Definition in Health Careers

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Have you ever considered working per diem? Many medical professionals work per diem to pick up some extra money in addition to their full-time positions, but others choose to only work per diem shifts without having a full-time job.

Per diem is a Latin term meaning "per day" or "each day," as in "daily." In medical careers, per diem refers to very short-term temporary employment that consists of just a few days of employment to fill in for a sick or vacationing full-time clinician. It is shorter than locum tenens or travel nursing assignments which are typically several weeks or months.

The term "per diem" also may be used to refer to the daily allotted sum of money to cover expenses for the day while the employee works, such as meals, gas, and lodging if needed.

Per Diem Nursing

A per diem nurse is not a regularly employed nurse, working for only one division in a hospital, but someone who works on a variety of units and sometimes in a variety of hospitals and other facilities. Some per diem nurses work for one hospital and are assigned to a unit depending on the patient census, and the patient needs in different units. Other per diem nurses work for per diem nursing agencies which provide nurses for a variety of facilities. These nurses might work two days at one hospital, and then three nights at another facility, all in one week.

Advantages of Per Diem Work

Per diem work pays a lot better than full-time or part-time work because the pay is used as an incentive to fill staff-to-patient ratios that aren’t being met, and the shifts may need to be filled at the last minute. You can work in a variety of settings — you can work in a psychiatric setting one day, and the next day is in the intensive care unit (ICU). You can discover which services and facilities you like the best, and take only the work you want. You choose your own schedule by accepting the shifts you like — no mandatory overtime. Other advantages of per diem work are:

  • Flexibility - work when you want
  • Immediacy - doesn't require a lot of lead time or advance planning 
  • Filling Gaps - from extra shifts to filling time between jobs
  • Near Home — jobs are no travel or relocation required


Although you have a lot of flexibility when you work per diem, you don’t have a lot of stability. It may be harder to find per diem work in some specialties more than others. (Nurses will probably have an easier time finding per diem work in their area than speech-language pathologists or occupational therapists simply due to the fact that medical facilities employ more of them.) Most per diem health professionals receive no benefits such as health insurance or vacation time because they are not affiliated with any particular hospital or institution. We all know how expensive health insurance can be, and even more so when you don’t have an employer helping to pay the cost. Without sick time or vacation time, you don’t get paid unless you work, so you need to keep your finances in order in case of emergencies.

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